BURGOS, Spain (VN) — The Astana hotel buzzed Thursday morning with activity while the sun tried to poke through the grey skies above northwest Spain. Its captain, Italian Fabio Aru, trails in the Vuelta a España by 3 seconds with four stages to race, and the team needs to think of a plan to break overall leader Tom Dumoulin.
Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) won the time trial Wednesday afternoon in Burgos and leaped ahead of early morning leader Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha). Aru, however, defended himself better than many imagined to place 10th at 1:53 back. In doing so, he kept the door open to win the race’s overall title Sunday in Madrid.
To do so, however, Astana needs to think of a way to deal with the 24-year-old Dutchman in red.
“I hope that Dumoulin will have some bad legs, because up until today he has been going strongly,” team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews. “It’s going to be hard.”
Aru, 25, won several big amateur stage races, including the Giro della Valle d’Aosta (twice). As a professional, he finished third in the 2014 Giro d’Italia and second in this year’s race. Dumoulin, however, has been a grand tour surprise.
Known mostly as a time trial rider three weeks ago, the native of Maastricht, Netherlands rode with the best climbers from the start of the Vuelta and realized gradually that he could be a grand tour rider. His first big win could be the Vuelta.
Martinelli has been guiding cyclists to grand tour wins since the 1990s and thought Wednesday night about how to deliver Aru to his first big win. Thursday’s stage to Riaza and Saturday’s stage to Cercedilla, which include final climbs of 1,750 meters and 1,800 meters before a descent to the finish, will be the team’s best chance.
“My feeling is that we came out of the time trial on our feet. It wasn’t a victory, for sure, but it kept us in the game,” Martinelli added.
“There will be ground to drop Tom, and for sure, his team is weaker than ours. But you always find allies, not because they want to help directly, but because they are in the same situation. And we already tried to drop him on the climbs, some will say we made mistakes, but this isn’t PlayStation.”
Critics point to Monday’s stage and questioned why Astana or Katusha did not push Dumoulin harder before the finish at the top of Ermita de Alba. They tried and weakened the field, but could only dislodge Dumoulin with 1km to race.
The way Dumoulin has ridden so far worries Martinelli, which could be why he hopes the simplest of plans will succeed — that Dumoulin’s legs will tire and Aru will race ahead for the Vuelta lead.